By Kudzai Kuwaza
The failure by opposition parties to form a grand coalition against the ruling Zanu PF in the July 30 make-or-break general elections is a stark reminder that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Plans to form a broad electoral alliance dubbed the Grand National Union are all but dead in the water as the main political players who were supposed to be part of the pact filed nomination papers last week under the auspices of their various political formations.
The secret negotiations, facilitated by a panel of eminent persons, had been designed to ensure that key opposition parties throw their weight behind MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, seen as the most viable opposition leader by popular appeal and electoral following.
Chamisa is one of 23 candidates vying for the top post, including Zanu PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The coalition plans, however, look doomed after some of the proposed members of the alliance such as People’s Rainbow Coalition leader Joice Mujuru and MDC-T splinter boss Thokozani Khupe filed their respective nomination papers.
As a result there are 23 presidential candidates, the highest number of contestants for the presidency since 1980. Among the presidential candidates is National Patriotic Front (NPF) leader Ambrose Mutinhiri, who was expected to be the one of the key members of the Grand National Union.
Opposition fragmentation has become an all-too-familiar script during elections. The failure by opposition parties to unite due to self-serving interests and big egos has had devastating consequences in the past.
In 2008, the late founding MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed to win the presidential elections with an outright majority due to split votes. Tsvangirai garnered 47,9% of the vote and then president Robert Mugabe got 43,2%, necessitating a run-off.
Former Finance minister Simba Makoni, who ran in the election, garnered 8,3% of the vote. Had Tsvangirai and Makoni formed a coalition, the MDC-T leader would have landed the presidency outright.
The failure to form a coalition cost Tsvangirai dearly as the run-off was marred by violence, forcing the main opposition to pull out of the rerun before agreeing to be part of a coalition government with Mugabe and MDC led by Arthur Mutambara. The MDC had split in 2005 over a dispute on the party’s participation in senatorial elections which resulted in the party’s secretary-general Welshman Ncube breaking away to form an offshoot simply called MDC.
However, despite the bitter recriminations of failing to win the 2008 polls due to divisions, the 2013 elections were to prove that opposition parties had learnt nothing and forgot nothing from the chastening experience of 2008.
The 2013 elections were contested by Tsvangirai, Ncube and Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa. Although there were initial discussions about forming a grand coalition between the two MDC parties and other opposition parties, the talks failed. By July 9 2013, two separate coalitions had been formed, one comprising MDC-T, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn and Zanu Ndonga and the other coalition comprising MDC and Zapu. The bitter animosity between Tsvangirai and Ncube continued through the lifespan of the inclusive government as Tsvangirai worked with Mugabe to exclude Ncube from some of the meetings they held as principals of the inclusive government.
The failure by opposition parties to form a broad grand coalition against Zanu PF in 2013 contributed to the ruling party’s controversial two-thirds majority win over the 15 opposition parties including the MDC-T which had contested the elections.
This has led to donor fatigue as the main funders of the opposition parties have withdrawn their funding support, leaving opposition parties in dire straits.
Opposition parties will be at a major disadvantage due to their failure to form a coalition party, according to political analyst Eldred Masunungure.
“The original purpose of the formation of the Grand National Union was to enhance the chances of the opposition parties against the ruling party Zanu PF in the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections,” Masunungure said.
“The collapse of the talks obviously undermines the chances of the opposition to have an upper hand against Zanu PF especially at presidential and parliamentary level. The chances are diminished by the multiplicity of opposition parties.”
Masunungure said the contestation of 23 presidential candidates will most likely split votes for the opposition, giving Zanu PF a major foothold in the July 30 elections.
The University of Zimbabwe lecturer, however, pointed out that it is still not too late for the other candidates to withdraw and throw in their lot with Chamisa to improve their chances of winning next month’s polls.
According to Section 49 of the Electoral Act, a duly nominated candidate for election for a constituency may withdraw his or her nomination at any time before polling or the first polling day, as the case may be.
However, this possibility seems to be growing ever more remote if developments on the ground are anything to go by.
Only this week, Chamisa’s party vowed that it would “do everything possible” to force the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to reverse its decision to accept Khupe’s nomination papers to contest the elections next month. Chamisa and Khupe have a pending court case where they are engaged in a bruising battle over party symbols, on the eve of the major election.
Political commentator Dumisani Nkomo said the main reason opposition parties fail to come together is because of the need to serve partisan interests.
“I think the main problem is selfishness,” Nkomo said.
“What we need are magnanimous leaders who are prepared to work for the greater good, but it appears all of them want to lead. Another problem is the failure by the parties on the allocation of seats to contest. All this is being done at the expense of the nation.”